Friday, July 31, 2009

Friday Book Review: Drood

Dan Simmons can scare the crap out of you. He's done it time after time with a wildly diverse range of topics from an Indian death goddess, to time traveling robots, to Inuit myths and finally in Drood we have Charles Dickens imagination!

In this novel Simmons uses real events from the life of Charles Dickens including his friend and fellow novelist Wilkie Collins to tell a chilling tale. In 1865 Charles Dickens is on a train that crashes killing many of the passengers. While attempting to assist some of the survivors he notices a tall figure moving between the survivors apparently murdering them. Dickens becomes obsessed with finding this stranger and enlists his friend Wilkie Collins to help him. Such begins a Sherlock Holmes trope with Dickens as Holmes and Collins as Watson as they attempt to track down the mysterious figure Drood.

However to dismiss this book as a Sherlock Holmes knock off would be a mistake. Simmons does a masterful job spinning a tale that is historically accurate and could have easily happened.

The central crux of the book is whether or not Drood truly exists. Is he a figment of Dickens imagination, the criminal master mind of London's undertown or Charles Dickens himself. All of the clues to figure out the mystery are there but it will keep you guessing until the last page.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Friday Book Review: Sun of Suns

I started listening to Sun Of Suns as it was a free audio book download from Audible. Without it being promoted by Audible, I probably never would have experienced this book and that would have been a shame.

This book owes a lot to Iain M Banks Culture novels as it is a posthuman space opera as Banks is credited in creating the genre. Even more so it reminds me of his latest novel, Matter, as an outsider comes into a relatively back water planet and upsets the balance of power. Comparing the author of Sun of Suns, Karl Schroeder, to Iain M Banks is a complement.

The events of Sun of Suns take place on a world called Virga. Virga is basically a Dyson's sphere orbiting its main sun Candesce. There is very little land and water. Giant cities generate their own gravity by using centrifugal force. Political power is gained by controlling any number of the smaller suns inside Virga.

We begin the story with a prologue where the people of Aerie are building their own sun to break free of the influence of Slipstream only to be brutally shut down by an attack from the Slipstream navy. We then skip forward a number of years where we focus on Hayden Griffin a survivor of the attack on Aerie where he has insinuated himself into the household of Venera Fanning the wife of Admiral Chaison Fanning. The man Hayden blames for the attack on Aerie.

All three of the main characters are interesting and well developed. You wonder whether Haydon can get past his need for revenge and move on with his life, Venera is certainly more than a trophy wife and she keeps some pretty important secrets from her husband but most interesting is the juxtaposition of Haydon's personal evaluation of Admiral Griffin compared to what he has always been told about the Butcher of Aerie.

The book is an engaging nautical adventure set in a posthuman society. It is expertly narrated by Joyce Irvine. I really enjoyed this book and I'm looking forward to reading the Queen of Candesce: Book Two of Virga. However, you don't need to read the next book as the plot threads started are resolved in the first book.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Friday Book Review: The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck

As Ryan reminded me about a month ago Donald Ducks 75th birthday came and went. For those of you who didn't know me as a kid I was and still remain a huge fan of the duck in the sailor's costume. So much so I even learned how to talk in Donald's voice.

That love of Donald transferred to the rest of the Duck clan including, of course, the irascible Scrooge McDuck. I spent a lot of time as a kid reading the various Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck comic books by the amazing Carl Barks. Barks is the man who invented the character of Scrooge McDuck. I owe him a great deal as my love of things like mythology, geography and different cultures owes a lot to what my young mind was exposed to in Barks' stories.

Recently I was saddened to hear that Gemstone had lost the license to publish Disney comics. Only to be overjoyed that Boom Studios has picked up the license. Which is great news as we should now see some new Duck stories.

Which in a very round about way brings us to our book review of The Life And Times Of Scrooge McDuck by Don Rosa. In this volume Rosa, a Barks enthusiast, carefully pieces together the life and times of Scrooge in 12 chapters. Rosa lovingly recreates the continuity of Barks' original stories into a consistent narrative that does not contradict the past. Basically, Rosa is a Scrooge McDuck fanboys dream come true.

Each chapter shows us a different stage in Scooge's life. From his early days in Glasgow, Scotland where he earns his number one dime to the development of Scrooge's giant money bin. The close of each chapter includes two or more pages from Rosa on how he teased the story to life from older Barks' stories, links back to how he created panels hearkening back to the older comics and trivia only hard core duck lovers could answer.

I really enjoyed this trip down memory lane and I'm very happy to have a book I can read to my daughter.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Friday Book Review: Free - The Future Of A Radical Price

I was a fan of Chris Anderson's last book The Long Tail so I was eagerly awaiting his latest effort Free: The Future Of A Radical Price. Luckily my waiting was rewarded by Audible as they offered a free download of the audio book.

Free started as a February 2008 post on Wired. Mr. Anderson spent the better part of a year researching the book which makes the flap about his failed attribution of sections of the book to Wikipedia even more ironic.

Sadly this doesn't seem to be the only place where content has been cribbed from other sources in order to pad out the book. To my count, parts of the following books are discussed in Free:I agree with the basic premise of Free but I really didn't learn anything new by reading this book. Which is funny as I think my demographic would be the target audience for it. I guess it may be a different experience if you haven't already read the above books but if you have you can easily take a pass on Free.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Coffee May Help Reverse Alzheimer's

Researchers in Florida have found that ingesting 500 milligrams of caffeine, equivalent to 5 cups of coffee, per day may help reverse the effects of Alzheimer's disease. All tests were done on mice but researchers hope to begin human trials soon.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Viagra Laced Coffee

Police raided a warehouse in Malaysia where a company was distributing a coffee laced with viagra. I know there is a joke in this news item somewhere. Please add your own punchline in the comments section.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Barista School

A local coffee shop owner is starting a barista school in Sacramento. Best quote from the article in reference to other coffee shops:

Calling those employees baristas, he says, "is like saying they have a chef at McDonald's."

Friday, July 3, 2009

Friday Book Review: Northlanders Vol. 01 - Sven The Returned

The Viking Age seems to be an era that would be rife for storytelling opportunities but other than Last Light Of The Sun by Guy Gavriel Kay I can't think of another book I've read on the subject. That is until I read Northlanders Vol. 01: Sven The Returned written by Brian Wood and art by David Gianfelice.

The plot of the story follows the familiar tale of the prodigal son. In this book Sven returns from his long self imposed exile as a soldier in the Mediterranean to his home village to claim his inheritance. His father was the chief of the clan and now his uncle rules using violence and superstition to keep the villagers in check.

When we first encounter Sven he doesn't care for anything but his money. He just wants to collect on his inheritance and return to his life in the Mediterranean. Of course it would be a pretty boring story if his uncle just handed over the money. Because of his uncle's lust for power he cannot fathom that Sven would renounce his claim on the leadership of the clan and throws many obstacles in his way. These challenges only succeed in having Sven grow up as a person and a leader.

Gianfelice art is spot on for this book. It's grim and dirty when it needs to be but also clean and beautiful as well.

The most common way I've heard this book described is Vikings Done Right! and that is a sentiment I couldn't agree more with.